When last year’s league table for brand value was published, it was no surprise to anyone within the watch world that Rolex took the top watch spot. The brand was valued at $8.7 billion placing it at no. 69 in the overall list. More impressive was the league table of the world’s most trusted brands. Here Rolex took first place for the second year in a row. With a reputation for probity and dependability that many a central bank would envy it is almost inevitable that Rolex watches should take the form of a currency of sorts.
American Travel Channel host Philippe Cousteau says he was advised by a British ex-special forces member to always travel with a steel Rolex as it makes an emergency ‘tradable commodity’. While this does have the whiff of Urban Legend about it, after all in extreme circumstances you are likely to just get the watch taken from you – unless you look like a ex-member of the British special forces that is, it does make the point that Rolex is recognised as valuable and desirable even in the remotest parts of the world.
A more modern take on the ‘Rolex as currency’ is the practise of buying a sought-after model to take abroad instead of carrying cash. If the watch is in demand you may not lose out when you sell it and depending on which market to sell into, you may make a profit. Customs officials may get twitchy about dozens of watches, but a single piece will attract little attention. Of course, if you are laundering cash, luxury purchases such as watches have always been attractive and if you buy Rolex, the ‘cost’ of the process can be very low.
It all comes down to value retention vs depreciation alongside Patek Philippe, Rolex probably has the best value retention of any major watch brand. That is not to say you can buy some bejewelled, outré design and not take a hit at resale, but steel sports models have held up very well recently with some retaining close to retail value for several years, even considering the VAT on the original purchase – such is demand. Even a run-of-the-mill bi-metal Datejust or a gold Day-Date will still hold value better than a similar watch from a comparable brand. Indeed, in the vintage market Rolex is one of the few commercial brands that will achieve more than bullion price at auction for its all-gold models.
With such a healthy pre-owned market for Rolex, there are always many around to choose from. This leads to another strength of the brand because the level of competition from dealers and the ease of buying online means that, for a given model, age and condition, you can be quite precise about the price you should pay. With a rare watch from a more unusual brand it is hard to say what is the right value, it comes down to subjective preference. Rolex make relatively few models, and these have evolved very slowly in design giving a certainty to the pre-owned market.
It certainly does not hurt the brand when the auction results come in. Rolex and Patek Philippe hold all the top wristwatch spots and yet Rolex is a relatively mass-produced tool watch while Patek Philippe sets itself up as the pinnacle of ‘Haute Horology’. The watch world held its collective breath when Paul Newman’ Daytona went under the hammer in October 2017 and when the hammer came down at £12.7 million including premium, a new level of watch collecting was achieved to rival rare classic cars, fine jewels and high art. Unless you too are a timeless screen icon, it is unlikely that your Rolex purchase will reap such a return but you can be sure that you have on your wrist the most trusted, bankable brand in the world.